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China on wrong side of history for backing Russian interests amid war, U.S. warns

Chinese President Xi Jinping reasserted his country's support for Russia during a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 15. The leaders are seen here in Beijing in February. (Alexei Druzhinin/AP)
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Chinese President Xi Jinping declared his support for Russia’s “sovereignty and security” during a Wednesday phone call with Vladimir Putin, prompting a swift U.S. rebuke that nations siding with the Russian leader over the Ukraine war will be “on the wrong side of history.”

Since the Kremlin’s troops entered Ukraine on Feb. 24, Beijing has refused to condemn the invasion. Instead, it is walking the line between keeping up ties with its most important strategic partner while being careful not to run afoul of Western sanctions.

Xi on Wednesday reiterated Beijing’s position that it would continue its relationship with Moscow. He said China is “willing to work with Russia to continue supporting each other on their respective core interests concerning sovereignty and security,” according to a readout of the call published by the official state news agency, Xinhua.

Russia has baselessly claimed that it invaded Ukraine to prevent a “genocide” of Russian speakers. Putin has long viewed Ukraine as an integral part of Russia, and his allies have suggested — contrary to international law — that Ukraine is not really a sovereign nation.

The Kremlin’s account of the call said Xi “noted the legitimacy of the actions taken by Russia to protect the fundamental national interests in the face of challenges to its security created by external forces.”

“More than three months into Russia’ brutal invasion, China is still standing by Russia. It is still echoing Russian propaganda around the world … it is still denying Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine by suggesting instead that they were staged,” a State Department spokesperson said following Wednesday’s call. “Nations that side with Vladimir Putin will inevitably find themselves on the wrong side of history.”

Presidents Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia said their countries’ friendship had “no limits,” but war with Ukraine is testing their ties. (Video: Julie Yoon/The Washington Post)

Beijing chafes at Moscow’s requests for support, Chinese officials say

The State Department noted that Putin and Xi met in Beijing in February, as Russian forces were already massing on Ukraine’s border. At the time, the two leaders declared their opposition to any expansion of NATO and made a “no limits” partnership.

Last month, Russia and China flew strategic bombers over the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, and the East China Sea while President Biden was in Tokyo, wrapping up his first trip to Asia. It was their first joint military exercise since the invasion of Ukraine and a pointed signal of the growing strategic partnership between Moscow and Beijing.

“China claims to be neutral, but its behavior makes clear that it is still investing in close ties to Russia,” the State Department spokesperson said. “The United States and Europe have warned China against providing Russia military assistance or systematic assistance with sanctions evasion. We are monitoring China’s activity closely.”

China, which also has long-standing ties with Ukraine, has called for an end to the war. But Beijing has refused to join countries around the world in imposing sanctions on Moscow, instead pinning blame on the United States and NATO expansion in Europe for fueling the conflict.

Xi told Putin on Wednesday that “all parties should push for a proper settlement of the Ukraine crisis in a responsible manner,” according to the Chinese readout.

Cate Cadell and Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report